The Birdcage Archives

Monday 2 October 2023

Remaining & Final Thoughts for the Nobel Prize in Literature 2023

Hello Gentle Reader,

Later this week we will learn who this years Nobel Laureate in Literature is, as the Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced today. As September's shadow lingers in the foreground, the seasons are certainly showing a change in demeanour and temperament. Summers brilliance and scorching devil may care attitude is all but abandoned, and while it attempted to prolong itself into the beginning of September, temperatures have slowly decreased, while the air grows crisper, the light clearer. To quote the English philosopher Bernard Williams:

"September tries its best to have us forget summer."

I am ready to leave summer behind, and forget it. The warm summers of childhood nostalgia and dreams, have all but been replaced by an oppressive authoritarian season that scorches with inquisitor fervor and righteous fury. While autumn, which used to haunt my thoughts as a child, has become a season of resigned dignity, and in turn has become my favourite season. These past few days have brought rain, and though welcomed, one can't help but chide for its overdue arrival. Where was it during this past parched summer? The wet winds have battered branches and rattled the leaves to take up flight and fall in departure. Afterwards, they scrap up and down the street, sometimes in flocks; while other times in desperate solitary sojourns, anguished and alienated please crying out from its weak scattering scratches down the street. Tree lines are a mix of green, yellow, and red. Enthusiastic trees (or merely wind beaten) have shed their leaves and resigned themselves to the oncoming winter reprieve. Now in October the brilliance of the leaves turning will have been lost. Having abandoned their perches, they'll lay scattered on lawns and lost in streets. While the trees transformed into twisted scaffolding frame grey skies through their gnarled bark branches. On clear moonlit nights, the moon will shine through these frames, casting arthritic clawed shadows. At which point, October settles in September's wake.

Due to this summer's unrelenting heat and drought, may headlines are employing the words: Disappointing. Poor. Meager. To describe this year's harvest. A recent walk around the city's limits, displayed the fields and crops have all be harvested. Bare stalks are what remains. Fawn and beige shadows of their former golden ocean like self. There is always a sense of expanse to the fields and crops, an endless nothingness just carrying on into the infinitesimal. Now, this otherwise nondescript landscape grows increasingly hollow and empty. The nights bite with a particular foreshadowing to a winter wolf lurking in the north, while meteorologist have begun to announce frost advisories for some communities. Flowers have all but shriveled up. Given way to autumn and dramatically died. They keel over in their wilting withered beds. Except those select few who preserve and hold through. Chrysanthemums and sunflowers are magnificently brilliant. Bold beautiful and resolute. They'll carry on in bouquets and harvest floral arrangements. The world may awaken in Spring, but does not come alive until Autumn. This change in season, with all its delights, paradoxical nuances, and changes in temperament reminds me of the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 2020, Louise Glück, who is the eternal October Poet.

Admittedly, when Louise Glück was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 2020, I was not overjoyed or impressed by the announcement. I was disappointed, with heaping doses of disgruntled annoyance by Glück's award. This discontent was only exacerbated by the Swedish Academy's new announcement format, whereby members of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy, dryly read a lecture to the assembled journalists, afterwards engaging in the most boring question and answer period. Though this could have been easily written off as a component of the Pandemic, this new style of announcement has become the mode of the Swedish Academy moving forward. Over the years, I've come to appreciate Louise Glück's poetry, an appreciation which was not readily on hand during the initial announcement, and was not properly sold by a disengaged Swedish Academy—more specifically wooden Permanent Secretary and charmless chair of the Nobel Committee.

Louise Glück was often mistakenly characterized as a confessional poet early on in her career. There is no histrionic striptease with Glück's poetry. No sense of deranged personal indulgence into immolating depravity. Glück's poetry lacks the kindling and the fire in which to burn herself anew. Louise Glück is not quite a phoenix like poet, rising from the ashes in a pyrotechnical display, radiant and revived. Rather, Louise Glück is more a poet of austere investigations where precision is the means in order to extract and display the events and discern meaning. This is often done to the point of being cold. Glück is more comparable to a figure skater with her technicalities in grace and effortless ability to conduct an autopsy on what could described as powerful (even overwhelming) emotions, all the while retaining a detached clinician's perspective in order pull back the layers and get to the heart of the matter. All of which is done in the most exquisite crystalline and clear language. My respect for Louise Glück of course came through her more unified collections of poetry. Often poetry collections are literarily a collection of assortments of poems, equivalent to a box of chocolates. A sampling if you will, to tickle and tease out some enjoyment from every palette and taste. Louise Glück, however, has drafted poetry collections with a sense of unified narrative or sequence, the poetry collection operates as a complete work, not independent stars shining and outshining each other. Glück's comprehensive collections provide her the opportunity to provide narrative and a mixture of voices to 'speak,' within her collections, and in turn converse. The most famous poetry collection "The Wild Iris," where existential ponderings of dramas of life playout through the diverse world of the garden, which is populated by a diverse group of flowers (which are imbued with their own personalities and monologues), the gardener who tends to this earthly realm, and an unknown god looking down upon it all. Subsequent collections followed suit, composing complex symphonic sequences of poetic cycles, employing historical, literary, and mythical narratives in which to comment on otherwise private moments.

Over the years, I've grown to appreciate Louise Glück and her poetry, as it is certainly singular in form. There is no poetic allegiance, no adoption or adherence to any other poetic movement or school. The poetry of Louise Glück is independent as it is intimate, private in intensity. The cohesion and overarching narrative of her collections, makes them feel like a complete 'piece,' rather than a scattered collection of fragments or thoughts housed together under one title. As September waltzes into October and autumn colours the leaves with fall, I often find myself gravitating towards Louise Glück's poetry, as after all, Glück is the October Poet. As the days are slow to wake and lengthened shadows cross streets earlier as the days redact further and further into the night, and the light grows distant but clearer, I read and grow increasingly fond of Louise Glück. Austerity is a word, I think few writers and poets would want attributed to their work, but for Glück, I hope she revels in it, as its endearing and complimentary. Glück's poetry is deprived of personal indulgences giving way to sensationalism and cloying sentimentality, all the while refusing to entertain high handed ostentatious peacocking. This is a poetry of expert refinement. The poetry of reaped fields golden and fawn. Of burdened dusks with clouds blood clot red. Yet, also of a twisted ironic sense of hope, of tender kindness, and a biting sense of humour. Louise Glück is a complex and multifaceted poet, whose distinct voice and literary qualities enshrines alongside the other great poets who have been awarded in recent memory.

— Darts in the Dark —

As with every year, the different Betting Sites have complied a synthesized list of who they think has the best odds at wining the Nobel Prize in Literature. This year's top contenders are perennial favourites, with top spot being reserved for the connoisseur of the surreal and delirious, the fever driven Kafka of Chinese literature, Can Xue. In hot pursuit is the Norwegian master of the hypnotic and rhythmic tidal prose and bleak dramatist, Jon Fosse. Third favourite is the hermetic magician of perception, the cult classic revered introspective master and Australian novelist, Gerald Murnane. Rounding off the betted front runners is the Canadian poet Anne Carson, who has expanded, pulled, twisted, and manipulated the form into surprising and refreshing territory.

The second tier of favoured writers—those who are grouped with having 12.0 odds—include prominent and perennial favourites to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, including Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a titan of contemporary postcolonial African literature; include the dissident Russian writer Ljudmila Ulitskaja; the Romanian spelunker of the surreal Mircea Cărtărescu; and American classic postmodernist and legendary camera-shy Thomas Pynchon.

The third tier—those who are grouped with having 15.0 odds—include the industrially prolific Argentinean César Aira; vitriol incarnate and iconoclast, Michel Houellebecq; the Japanese surveyor of modern-day isolation, disconnect, and pop philosopher, Murakami Haruki; baroque sentence composer of obscure renown, Pierre Michon; celebrated and controversial Chilean poet, Raul Zurita; one of the modern masters of the English language, the renowned and famous Salman Rushdie.

Other writers who were listed with odds past 15.0, include Jamaica Kincaid, Karl Ove Knausgård, Margaret Atwood, Helle Helle, Ko Un, Elena Poniatowska; Krasznahorkai László, and Homero Aridjis.

In all, this year's betting sites have amassed an otherwise 'conservative,' list of names. Writers who at one point in time have been speculated as a potential candidate for the award, with some being considered front runners in years past. Nothing, however, extraordinarily to extract from this year's complied writers, no grains of wisdom or suspicious names—as in the case of 2014, when Patrick Modiano made his first appearance to the betting list and skyrocketed towards the end. The only new name of reasonable on this year's betting list is the Danish writer Helle Helle. Knowing nothing to very little about Helle Helle, I did some looking around. Critically acclaimed and popular in Denmark, Helle Helle has been translated into some 20 languages. Debuting in the early 1990's, Helle Helle gained recognition for her use of language straddling both visual attentiveness and capturing the nuances of everyday speech. At 57 years old, Helle Helle could be considered in the right age range to begin being considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Though having not read Helle Helle yet, I cannot comment on her output or her work. Though her novel "de," (translation: "they,") was nominated for the Nordic Councils Literature Prize in 2019, with an overview of the novel praising further development in Helle Helle's experimentation and exploration of language, with the novel employing the present tense medium exclusively and anonymous narration of a mother and daughter, who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Rather than sink into the end, they resolve to continue on with life. In 51 short chapters, Helle Helle recounts the final chapter of their lives. The novel was praised for its handling of the disease and death, which through crystalline prose, the shadow of sorrow and grief remained ever present; but was able to avoid the entrapments of sensationalism and sentimentality, all the while exploring the confines of identity and language. As either mother or daughter is named in the book their identities become interchangeable. "de," is a novel fragility, compassion, life and ultimately death; yet its impact comes from the physical and visual perceptions of language, Helle Helle, relies on describing physical aspects of characters, their actions, movements, and speech to betray their emotional responses and turmoil, rather than illuminate it directly. This surface level iceberg narrative ensures investment and participation from readers to decipher and discern the emotional thoughts of the characters.

Elsewhere, names upon names of writers cascade down with a torrent's mania. A Wikipedia placeholder article, leading up to this week's announcement date, has worked diligently to trawl the internet to find enough filler to tide the article until Thursday's announcement. Of course (and rightfully so) the article makes it very clear that despite the Swedish Academy's protocols and bylaws regarding confidentiality and secrecy, numerous international writers are perennially expected and speculated to be considered for the award, at which point the articles proceeds to go into a bombast binge of writers around the world in paragraph format.

The list certainly included some persevering perennial candidates such as: the great Syrian poet Adunis, and the Albanian master Ismail Kadare, both writers have been considered in contention for decades now, and yet neither has received the award. How close have they gotten? No one knows at this time, but the persistent pass over by the Swedish Academy will go down as a glaring missed opportunity and mistake. With Milan Kundera's death this past summer, was a startling reminder that the Nobel Prize in Literature is never guaranteed. Regardless the contributions of both Adunis and Ismail Kadare to their respective languages literature and international literature are everlasting at this point. The Nobel Prizes in their entirety are full of glittering honours and dubious awards. It’s a matter of taste and preference. There have been plenty of omitted writers over the past century of the prize's history and plenty of deserving Laureates in turn. It is disappointing to see, however, both Adunis and Ismail Kadare looked over. But the Swedish Academy as an institution is still human at its core. Regardless of its governing bylaws, purpose, and mission, the academy is inevitably prone to engaging in petty squabbles, which ultimately means the Swedish Academy is forced to compromise on laureates and nominees frequently. This may mean that Adunis and Ismail Kadare have often been neglected due to their literary international successes, whereby some members (speculatively of course) may argue that the Nobel Prize would be redundant to authors of such rank and renown, or as in the case of Robert Frost, their now advancing age prove to complicate the award. Both arguments are flimsy at best, but can easily be applied. As the awards archives are opened up, the extent of these otherwise trifling squabbles become more and more apparent. This is exemplified by one academy member Artur Lundkvist, whose very public disagreements were often borderline disgruntled and embittered, with his oppositions to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn well documented—and it should be noted that Lundkvist was adamant supporter/sympathizer of the Soviet Union and communist in every form but name—but his outrage truly came to full show when William Golding received the award in 1983.

Despite all the speculation, this year's award has no resounding favour applied to any specific writer. In 2021, Annie Ernaux felt like a confident prediction, but everyone's expectations were dashed when Abdulrazak Gurnah was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature. When Ernaux followed last year, it didn't come as a surprise rather just delayed. This year, however, there is no consensus or sense of certainty. While Can Xue is ranked the highest in the betting sites currently, there is a current of apprehension beneath any assurances. First and foremost, Can Xue is a writer of divisive talent. Readers either thoroughly enjoy her increasingly abstract, surreal, and acid infused Kafkaesque narratives, with dedicated appreciation, or, they find them unapproachable and alienating. Articles have pointed out that in China, Can Xue is described as clinically insane. Will a writer who floats between profundity and profanity be to the Swedish Academy's taste? There is no discernible answer until Thursday.

What then of Jon Fosse, after all he is one of the most performed playwrights in the world. Fosse's dramatic works are characterized in the same school or category as that of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, though lacking the critical fanfare in the English language. Fosse's theatrical works, however, were not his first love. Plays of bleak shingled shorelines, boats stranded and adrift in black seas, and dramas of anxious apprehension with the threat of someone going to come, all of which is facilitated through Fosse's signature repetitive rhythmic language. Yet, Fosse always considered himself a novelist first and foremost and a dramatist by chance. Fosse's novels are equally renowned for their otherworldly landscapes of bleak fjords, dark houses, unknown towns and villages. Time is fluid mechanic, influenced by memory and dreamscape, allowing temporal shifts in perspective. As with his dramatic pieces, the language of Fosse's prose is equally tidal in pace, rhythmic and hypnotic, like the waves crashing into the shore and receding back out to sea. Though not everyone's cup of tea, there is no denying that Jon Fosse is one of the most important playwrights and influential Norwegian writers currently at work (he is the antithesis to the maximalist Karl Ove Knausgård), but there has been considerable criticism leverage against the Nobel Prize in Literature for having a distinctly Scandinavian bias, which came to a boiling point in 1974—but that's a whole other kettle of fish—when Tomas Tranströmer was announced as the years laureate in 2011, there was considerable grumbling about him being a Swedish poet, despite the fact that Tranströmer was a more then deserving poet, renowned and recognized across the world, reducing their criticism to sour grapes. Still, in 2011, the then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund still commented in attempt to dissuade from preconceived criticism early on by clarifying that it had been almost forty years since a Scandinavian language writer had won the award. These same optics may be applied to Jon Fosse, but again, the Swedish Academy cannot allow a bit of controversy from awarding writers (as it certainly hasn't been a hinderance in the past), and Jon Fosse is more then a worth Nobel Laureate.

Despite Can Xue and Jon Fosse being considered the two front runners for this year's award as per the betting sites, there is still a lack of affirmative certainty that either writer will receive this year's award. This merely confirms the reality that regardless of the speculation, the betting, the commenting, and theorizing, we're all throwing darts in the dark, without knowledge of where the board is, let alone if it is even hung up. Everything remains in the dark until the announcement. The announcement of the year's winner provides no further illumination, merely setting the stage for next years speculation. The joy, however, of speculation is not getting it right, its learning about all sorts of writers who can be considered in contention for the Nobel Prize in Literature, writers who without the awards assistance may have gone unread or overlooked. Yet, I am hoping for a complete surprise (as always) a writer of such little renown and translation, but packs a wallop. The kind of writer who can always use with the uplift of the Nobel Prize's prestige, and whose remarkable output has been overshadowed or neglected, and the world is full of those writers.

— Personal Preferences —

Of all the Nobel Prizes the Nobel Prize in Literature is most likely the most accessible and approachable prize. Medicine, physics, chemistry, and the memorial economics prize require a considerable amount of knowledge and understanding to provide appreciation of the laureates and their subject matter. The Peace Prize is one that courts the most controversy and whose messaging is routinely lost. Literature, however, is something everyone regardless of their tastes or reading preferences can have an opinion on. Most often there is a continued and resounding indignant hooting of who, when it comes to the prize, as critics and commentators react with outrage at yet another writer winning the award who they've never heard of, and continue to lament why this writer or that writer has once again been overlooked or denied. As a matter of personal preference, I would love to see the many writers receive the award, including the under translated writers such as the Icelandic Gyrðir Elíasson or the elusive Eeva Tikka from Finland, whose beautiful novels, stories, and poetry have never made it to English translation, and exist only in a couple of stories here and there on the internet. Then there is the still criminally underrepresented Ogawa Yōko, who despite being prolifically translated and available in French, remains underwhelmingly available in English. There is the precise intricate poetry of the Swiss master Klaus Merz. The emotive harmonizer and pearl of poetry Doris Kareva. The palpable poetry of Agi Mishol, full of humour, life, and grace.

Regarding the point of poetry, few poets have won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the past few decades, but the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Swedish Academy have awarded considerable high quality and enduring poets such as: Joseph Brodsky (1987), Octavio Paz (1990), Derek Walcott (1992) Seamus Heaney (1995), Wisława Szymborska (1996), Tomas Tranströmer (2011), and Louise Glück (2020); and while other writers have started their careers in poetry, or written poetry collections such as: Elfriede Jelinek, Harold Pinter, and Herta Müller, their work gain prominence via other mediums. When it comes to poetry, the Nobel Prize often acknowledges great poets and poetry, and the poetry of Klaus Merz, Agi Mishol, and Doris Kareva, are all equally worthy of the prize (at least in my humble opinion). They are each very different poets in form, style, and thematic concern, but like all poets who have the won Nobel Prize in Literature, their poems are of expert craftsmanship, as poetry is a craft that has no room for error or laziness. A poet must be an expert in form from start to finish, followed by excruciating editor and unsentimental reader. To quote Wisława Szymborska with regards to why her output was so small: "I have a waste-paper basket at home." Which is perhaps the most useful item any poet can have, as they must carve the excess, rewrite, reduce, and refine. Poetry is an exacting form, one with little to no forgiveness. Great poetry is recognizable, while poor poetry is glaringly unmistakable. Still, I would not describe myself as a devout poetry reader. Though I enjoy it, consuming vast and large quantities of poetry or entire collections, comes across as an over stimulation, or leaving me with the understanding that something has been missed. Poetry, I find, is best read and contemplated in small quantities in order to appreciate it in its robust fullness. This is perhaps why I enjoy Klaus Merz, there's no ostentatious windbaggery, this is a poet of the immediate burrowing to the heart of the matter with clear epiphanic concision. Whereas Agi Mishol's poetry carries a poetry of lightness and life, the mundane is elevated into empathetic metaphor and discussion, full of both sorrow and humour, very few poets are as enjoyable to read as Agi Mishol, with the lightness of touch echoing beyond the page. A dark horse (at least for now) would be the Scottish poet, Robin Robertson, who has proven that poetry and prose are not mutually exclusive and incompatible, but to forms of equal weight and measure. I think Robin Robertson would be an excellent Nobel Laureate and well deserved, few writers have been able so straddle the river banks between poetry and prose with equal command, and yet Robertson does just that and succeeds in broadening poetry's vision beyond the hermetically dense, and prose to pay greater attention to the internal heartbeat and engineering qualities of language as being not just as a mode of narration, but the intricate structure that requires equal refinement and consideration into the presentation.

In the case of the Swedish Academy the current 16 members (the final two will be inducted December this year and participate in the deliberations next year), the entire process is deliberation, debate, argument, concession and compromise. No Nobel Laureate in Literature is unanimously decided upon with the full academy's support, they only have a majority of the support. Though I suspect, some laureates have more support than others. A recent, article mentioned that Murakami Haruki held a 'ghost story,' reading in Tokyo, a week before the Nobel Prize in Literature is set to be announced. Some commentators are considering this to be a campaign maneuver to grab the Swedish Academy's attention. I can't comment on the veracity of that intention (and nor would I, as its tantamount to speculation and conjecture), but it's already been made clear that the academy's deliberations have already begun and are in the final stretch. Any reading or campaign carried out by a writer or their supporters now would an exercise in futility and redundancy. Murakami's ghost story reading and celebration of the classic Japanese writer, Akinari Ueda. During the reading Murakami is reported to have professed his enjoyment of horror narratives (or scary stories) and wanted to write more of them. The fact that its Murakami and his renown for curating ambiguity and opaque reasoning for decisions, leaves the door open for a great deal of theorization. For example, as a writer Murakami Haruki is both praised and criticized for lacking any strong Japanese certainty as a writer, all the while complaining and reveling in his outsider status as a Japanese writer. Murakami's influences have been undeniably English/American literature which includes such as writers as Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while (it is my understanding) that Murakami has written his works originally in English and translated the text into Japanese, which would present his unique literary style in that sense. Still, over the past years, Murakami's output has been dogged by lacking quality, to the point that it become a caricature of his earlier career. the novels have recycled the same plot, story, themes to the point there is nothing new to be gained from them. His most recent published novel in Japan I believe is called "The City and Its Uncertain Walls," has received a muted to mix response. If Murakami was ever a contender for the award, I think that ship sailed years ago. His output is not of the same caliber of Kawabata Yasunari or the late Ōe Kenzaburō. Due to the devotion of his fans, Murakami is often pushed to the forefront on this upwelling wave of populist appeal, but the quality is severely lacking. Of course, the Nobel Prize in Literature is one based on debate and compromise, which may raise Murakami's chances, as there have been other writers with equal parts mediocre output who have received the award. It comes down to compromise and concessions within the deliberations.

— Finish —

As Nobel Week has begun, we only have a few more days to wait until the Nobel Prize in Literature announcement is made. Who will win the award? At this point the only certainty is this: no one knows who will win the award. I suspect its going to be a shock, hopefully a surprise (though those can go either way), but ideally, it'll be a new writer to explore and learn about and broaden the reading palette further. At worst it'll be a candidate of questionable merit (much like Murakami Haruki) or in turn a perennial candidate, whose award (however deserving) is utterly boring. Its impossible to discern the Swedish Academy's though process. There is no crystal ball; no tea leaves; no palm reading; no tarot spread; or scrying of the stars, which will provide any divination into the Swedish Academy.

Until Thursday Gentle Reader.

Thank you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary


  1. As always, your article was extremely informative and amazingly insightful.

    1. Thank you for reading and the kind words!

      It seems this year, it really is anyone's opportunity to receive the legendary phone call tomorrow! I'm leaning towards Jon Fosse now, he's a more then qualified writer, whose reputation is legendary as well. Though, I still hold out for a shock and surprise - with the caveat of course that its an enjoyable surprise!

      Thank you for reading!

      M. Mary